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Nicely written....specially the last lines....



I live in London and my girlfriend used to live in Lancaster. It's about 250 miles between the two, not a vast distance, certainly, but I worked out at one point that it would be cheaper to fly there than to get the train. That's a domestic flight in the UK, cheaper than a train journey. The UK is by no means a large country. The point is that that's clearly economically insane. Quite apart from the fact that the market is obviously hopelessly skewed by a variety of historical and political factors; nowhere does the transport market include the environmental costs of its activities. Quite simply, we're not paying the true cost of air travel.

Incidentally, I never did fly to Lancaster, but the train became so expensive that in the end I bought a motorbike and travelled that way. Still cheaper than any public transport alternative, and far more fuel efficient than a car.

Good post, cheers.

Mehul Kamdar


While travel by train is expensive in Europe in many parts of the world like South Asia and the republics of the former USSR it is very inexpensive primarily because the number of people who travel by train make it cheap. The cost effectiveness of rail travel is something that those in the business of hauling heavy freight recognize - it often costs less than 10% of what it costs to send a 40 MT cargo 1000 miles or longer by rail than by road. With people traveling, the weight incentive is lost and the price shoots up unless you have sufficient numbers to make rail travel worthwhile. That is why countries like India manage to make rail travel cheap and profitable as they have millions of people using trains every day. Unfortunately, in more modern societies with a faster pace of life, these kinds of numbers do not appear likely.



I just took a train from Carbondale, IL to Chicago, IL about 340 miles. It cost $122 round trip for my wife and I which I thought was pretty good. But the Train broke on the way up and the other people were difficult to deal with at best. We also had to pay for Cab fair and Train fair from down town to the suburbs. I really wanted to do this again but I've really got a bad taste in my mouth from this whole encounter. I might ride up again in the summer but it's hard to justify spending so much more for so much less.



Little wonder why people in the U.S. drive everywhere.



My Wife, 7 year old ( 4, 5, & 6 at the time ) and I have taken several long journeys on Amtrak. We enjoyed the train most of the time. We had a sleeper car so meals were included and they were very good. Light years beyond any airline food. We met many interesting and varied people on the train, even a semi well known congressman, had conversations in the dining and observation cars, walked around Alburqure for 2 hours, we had a 7 hour layover in Chicago, because we had a sleeper car we were given access to a lounge with free coffee, juice and snacks and given a pass for the Chicago Zoo by the person in charge of the lounge. The one trip we had that was bad was only bad because of our cars steward, a simple complaint to the main Amtrak office got me %30 off our next trip. I can not imagine the airlines doing anything but laughing if we had a complaint about a rude flight attendant. Your mileage may vary but mine was great.



Though the flight might take four hours, transit time included, you still have to get to one airport and away from another one, which often can be both time consuming and expensive. And you have to show up an hour before boarding the plane. This adds an additional three hours.
Another factor, I feel, when considering the time spent on an airplane vs on a train is that the time spent traveling by air is often almost impossible to utilize in a pleasant and/or efficient way. You have to remove your belt and shoes, keep track of what gate to go to, pay attention to the PA-system and so on. So you end up with choosing between seven hours, say, of mild discomfort or 15 hours spent reading a book.
All that said, I often feel like an idiot too, when choosing the fairly expensive train. At least the view is often nice.



After all you enjoyed the slowness of traveling by train which let the brain thinking much more than an airplane!

Joel Copple


34 years ago I took trains between Barcelona and Brussels. I was living in Brussels at the time and traveled extensively around Europe on various Eurailpasses and other deals, passes and scale discounts. Back then I think buying one train ticket between point A and point B was comparatively very expensive. It sounds like it still is. Now I live in Asia but travel in the US a lot. I am able to get cheap flights, per city in the US by buying multi-city tickets. Not just in travel, but in many kinds of sectors I think buying in bulk, or at economy of scale, multi-ticket packages, etc., is often "the way to go."



Would be nice to compare the fuel consumption between training and flying. One being nearly entirely nuclear generated electricity, the other being oil. Also, you could compare how much radiation you would get from your 2 hour flight at 40k feet, to the amount of radiation you are exposed to whilst on the train.

Other measurments could be the likelihood of catching a flu/cold on a plane compared to on a train (including changing station in Paris), the stress of having to go through customs in Spain and in Belgium, avoiding the French strikes and bad temper.



I travelled between York and Brussels via train and Eurostar. UK trains are simply rubbish. But Eurostar and the French trains rock! For me, the airlines at the time required 2 hour check ins, so factoring that plus the time to get to and from the airports at each end made the travel times surprisingly close (about an hour). But on the train I could work and move around, see the view, and enjoy the ride.

Bring the Eurostar to the north of England please!



I think one of the main reasons for the large price difference is the fact that there's no tax on aircraft fuel. Due to conventions made during WW2 mainly to broaden the view of people and make the world smaller (that was the intention politicians gave it) Now I'm typing this it wouldn't suprise me that the reason was to keep the aviation industry running after the war....


Trains or other types of land transport do pay a lot of taxes over their energy use. This makes the competition very unequal, which is clearly visible in the ticket price.

Since aviation nowadays has a large economical influence in many countries, it's difficult to withdraw these conventions. In my opinion the best way to promote using cleaner public transport would be removing this from tax, just as aviation and than slowly increasing taxes on aircraft fuel.



I wonder if there is a history of air travel costs anywhere? I remember about 10-15 years ago when I would travel to see family who were 2,000km away. At the time I believe the airfairs were $699 per person. I could drive it in about 22 hours spending about $100 on fuel. A train ticket was about $80 if I remember correctly. With 5 people going it was a no brainer - we always drove it.

Today the same flight costs $99. Car fuel would cost me about $300. While the cost of train ride is now $599 and takes longer than driving it. Needless to say I have only ever flew in recent years.
There was period of 10 years where I never made the trip, so I don't know how rapid these price changes occured, but they are shocking.

Once, when I used to do tri-athlons, I rode with a friend and my brother the 2,000km on bicycles. We went pretty slowly (its hard to ride with alot of gear) staying at each town and only traveling about 80km per day. All up it took us 28 days. I think everyone needs to travel by human power (or wind on the seas) to really appreaciate technology. It boggles my mind that the 2,000km trip can be made in about 2 hours 10 minutes on a plane. Ironically their is a train from the airport that goes right next to my house, but the trip takes about 2 hours 30 minutes, because the train system is terrible here (australia).

Stephen Lawrence


If you go to seat61.com you'll find some amazing rail bargains - esecially Barcelona-Paris (£70 one way?) - but only on the (lower-speed) sleeper. That does kinda support your argument that high speed costs a great deal of money.

Still, all the rail infrastructure is basically recyclable...

Also remember that rail transport was subsidised in the past by appaling working conditions of the men who had to build the first lines. Then , as conditions improved, prices charged to passengers rose since rail workers, rightly, charged more.

Also remember that today, a well-paid railway worker may choose to spend their salary on anything they like - including tickets for polluting air travel.



You could have driven; an economical car would not cost anywhere near as much as the rail fare. Assuming an average speed of at least 100km/h you're looking at around 10 hours.
On the high-speed subject, Barcelona to France doesn't have a high speed route yet. ok, so you'll have to wait until 2013 for the Barcelona to Brussels route which will take just 7 hours (not taking into consideration the wait in Paris). Pricing is being tackled by the EU at the moment to create a harmonised and more economical pricing scheme. For the future, at least, things will get better and you will have one of three choices.
In contrast, if I wanted to get to New York from Chicago (a comparative journey if slightly longer), it would take me as long to fly, 13 hour to drive (if I was lucky) and 20 hours by rail.
Both these example contrast heavily when you consider the Beijing to Shanghai line; again about the same comparative distance when completed the journey will take just five hours!



"You could have driven; an economical car would not cost anywhere near as much as the rail fare."

I do not have a car. If I have to buy a car just to travel to Brussels 3 times a year, this would be far from an economical choice. To add to this, I have to drive through France, and using the motorway there is rather expensive (you have to pay toll).

You are right to say that things are improving. During my last trip (this summer) the difference between plane and train fare was considerably smaller - mostly because plane tickets are more expensive now.



This discussion rings true for those of us in Canada with the distances magnifying the discrepancies. The distance from Toronto to Vancouver by train is 4466 km and it takes four days to do the trip. It costs about C$800. You can do the same trip by airplane in five or six hours for about C$400. Although our air fares haven't dropped to the crazy European levels, it's still hard to justify using the train.

Except(!), the train itself has become a tourist destination. The scenery during the trip is spectacular and its one of those trips that you remember until you die.

Unfortunately we have done a poor job of using electricity wisely. The trains are all diesel so it's not clear which is the greener trip. I suspect the airplane is.

In southern Ontario (Toronto area) where I live I take the train as often as possible because the freeways have become very unpleasant places indeed. However, the schedules are poor and often the only alternative to doing a lot of waiting is to drive.

May petroleum prices rise soon!



The fellow who speaks for "Canada" (" ... This discussion rings true for those of us in Canada ...") lives in Southern Ontario. They actually have passenger trains there, but most of the country does not.

I live in one of the 20 largest cities in Canada, and to take a train I need to fly or drive 230 Km. There are people who live in one of the 10 largest cities, with over a million people, who would have to fly or drive almost 300 Km to take a train.

There is no reasonable way to take a train from my city to the larger city, which are 500 Km apart by road or air. It is possible, of course: fly or drive 230 Km, travel 1600 Km west, travel 1100 Km east, then fly or drive 300 Km.



My bad: the last 300 Km leg is unnecessary. Should be 230 Km south by car or air, 1600 km west by rail, then 1100 km east by rail.

Or, alternately, 230 Km south by car or air, 500 Km west by rail, and 300 Km north by car or air. Of course, that's 200 km further of driving or flying than driving or flying direct.



I often have to travel from Bergen to Oslo in Norway. Because of the topography (and a very old train line), train and car take about 6 hours, the plane takes 45 minutes. If one takes the night train, you sleep abut 6 hours anyway, and the train takes you from downtown to downtown. But my friends always wonder why I take the train. There was a documentary made which shows the trip in realtime. It travels through some wonderous scenary. See for your selves.




" 'You could have driven; an economical car would not cost anywhere near as much as the rail fare.' I do not have a car. If I have to buy a car just to travel to Brussels 3 times a year, this would be far from an economical choice."

You could have used Carsharing - for eg http://www.avancar.es/ca/index.asp in Barcelona. I'm involved with trying to set up the same service in Ireland (www.gocar.ie).

Or hired a car if going for a long time? Of course with this you'd have to add your rental + fuel + insurance + tolls etc, so might not be economic.

Of course there's the environmental cost of driving to consider though. (Although the 'love miles' qualification might help)



I used to business travel in Europe rather car, than airplane.
I lived in middle north part of Slovakia. One small airport is "near" 100 km, but only to Prague. International airport (Bratislava - Ba) is 300 km far. If I would go to Ba by train I would sent 3 to 5 hour, by car min. 3 h. 1 to 2 of airport waiting, next about 0,75 to 3 hours flight, and at last traveling from airport to destination. In 10 to 16 hours many of my EU destination are reachable by car. With any kind of language, with knife, bottle of wine...
One time I tried to manage my town to Brussels by train = 26 hours of traveling, exchange in Ba, Vienna and somewhere else - no possibility.



All Diesel trains are electric trains. The diesels power generators which power electric motors connected to the wheels. If you had an electric source it would be possible to run the trains without using the diesel motors.

Steve Tupper


Your comment may be true, but not for all journeys. I travel bewteen Moscow and St.Petersburg by train, the comparison goes something like this:

1. travel time town centre to railyway station: say 30 minutes
2. check-in to departure: 15 minutes
3. jouney: 3.5 hours
4. travel time railway station to town centre: 0
Total: 4 hours 15 minutes

1. travel time town centre to Sheremetevo airport: minimum 1 hour, usually 90 minutes
2. check-in time to departure: 90 minutes
3. journey time: 60 minutes
4. travel time airport to town centre: up to 1 hour
Total: 5 hours

Having said that, I ask the question: do you want high speed and low tech? Going low tech has costs - but also benefits. In your case, seeing some great scenery.

The cost question remains, however. But not much route competition between rail companies, is there?



In the US in particular, petroleum products are so heavily supported by above and below the table tax supports, that there is no way for price to ever compare for long-distance treks. The commuter trains in the east easily smash the cost of owning a car and you trade car cost, maintenance and fueling, plus the not commonly discussed, but extreme danger of driving (In one year in the US alone, we lose more people to automotive casualties than the total casualties of the Revolutionary, Civil and Viet wars all added together) Thus, that auto insurance cost.

Still, the fuel comparisons per mile always give it up to rail.
For my own experience, in Britain we both got one month student passes to the rail system and slept on the train between destinations, making it an actually reasonable means of economic touring. In the US and Canada we had to get 1st class tickets for sleeping on board reasonably (not upright in seats) so we were wined and very well dined for our extra cost. Tho I must admit the extra bottles of wine we purchased on board padded it a bit. In our last cross-country trek we used the car, but still had to buy a tent to keep the total costs below plane or train. Those hotels and meals add up after a bit, and gas is not getting cheap.

Kathleen Healy


My Service Dog, Sam, and I took 6 weeks and the train from Phoenix to New Orleans to Philadelphia to Chicago to San Francisco. It was a fabulous trip. We stayed with family and friends along the way. We did travel in a sleeper compartment, which was quite a luxury, but all meals were included. Most of the scenery was breathtaking. I took books to read, but found myself gazing out the windows the entire time.

Had we travelled coach class on the train, the fare might have been somewhat comparable to air. However, unless speed is of the essence, flying is a horrible way to travel.

Our next rail trip will be the Coastal Starlight from LA to Seattle.



Pego, the US road toll in 2011 was 32,367. The combined death toll of the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and Vietnam War was just over 700,000.



I've compared prices and trip times for Amtrak and Greyhound (bus service) many many times. On long trips, Greyhound always wins on both counts. On short trips, who wins varies depending on the specific destinations and start points and what day of the week it is.



It is amazing the lengths people go to to avoid admitting the efficiency of flying. Look at the weight of equipment to passenger, the density of the air you are pushing through, and the amount of rolling friction.



Apparently the "super cheap" advance purchase fares were not yet a thing when you did your trip. Nowadays you can reasonably get a ticket for 40€ if only you book early enough. However, this has the added problem that you have to get your connections, as international connections are not guaranteed... Doing a trip like Frankfurt-Paris is comparatively easy. Doing Frankfurt-Barcelona is harder than if there were an European Amtrak...



Luckily something is changing, at least for some short-medium routes. I live in Milan, Italy, and my girlfriend lives in Rome. Between those two cities exists an high speed line capable of 300km/m, so it can take 2-3 hours. In fact, taking Italo, a private-owned high speed train (so without state subsidies) costs between 60 and 80 euros, while the Frecciarossa, which is public owned, costs a bit more (100 euros).
Travelling on a normal train costs no more than 30 euros, but it takes like 6 hours. Flying, on the other hand, is not a very good choice because the cheapest plane (80 euros) departs not from the closest airport, but from one which is one hour away by car from my house (Milan's central station is just twenty minutes away by foot). Unfortunately what is missing is not only the idea of long distance travel, but also the international connections, which can be even shorter than the national ones.

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